Call to Action: Addressing the Emergency Assistance Crisis

Dear Alliance Members, Community Partners, and Friends:

I want to share with you a disturbing update on the state of the social services safety net in our state and on one vital program in particular: Emergency Assistance (EA).  EA benefits are one of the most critical elements of our state’s homelessness prevention efforts by providing housing and shelter-related resources that provide safe haven and support for individuals and families who are homeless and helps individuals and families with the most limited income resources from sliding into the chaos and trauma of homelessness. EA prevents parents and their children and individuals from living on the streets or in abandoned buildings and can provide stable housing for up to 12 months so that the recipients can secure viable, permanent alternatives.  It is a vital tool for the individuals and families of many of the partner agencies of Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness – and it keeps many more from becoming reliant on long term public assistance in the first place.

In the last year and a half, the State has tightened EA eligibility, taken decision-making away from local county welfare agency workers, and appear to have issued nonsensical and contradictory reasons for EA denials — often claiming that individuals and families have “caused their own homelessness” or “failed to plan adequately” when often the individuals and families are victims of abuse or other unforeseeable tragedy that could not have been anticipated, let alone planned for. The state reports that in just the past year, 40% fewer individuals and families have been approved for emergency benefits. Take particular note of the word “approved.” No agency, no watchdog group, no one is reporting that poverty or any of its indicators have declined by that amount. The need for EA services as a vital tool to combat homelessness has not changed, so this 40% cut in approvals is simply denying help to desperate people. In fact, these nonsensical budget cuts are having the exact opposite effect of what they state is happening; adding to the lines at the door of, and calls to, agencies like HomeFront and the Rescue Mission of Trenton.

In his FY2017 budget, Governor Christie proposes further reductions in EA — $58 million dollars less than FY2015, before the EA cuts began.  These short-sighted cuts would prevent individuals and families in desperate need from accessing the assistance they require to maintain housing, would have a ripple effect on other safety net programs as individuals and families struggle to make ends meet.  We have already seen a devastating impact on the social services community in New Jersey, with budgets that were tight to begin with stretched to the breaking point.  Some sister programs around the state have begun to close, including some even here in Mercer County.

The Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness is participating in efforts led by the NJ Coalition to End Homelessness and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey to restore the more inclusive interpretation of eligibility and urge the NJ State Legislature to revise the budget to restore funding for EA to FY2015 levels.  Over the last several decades, the State of New Jersey has successfully built the EA program to prevent residents from becoming homeless and to avoid the downward spiral that losing housing precipitates.  The proposed cuts to EA would mean more individuals and families on the streets and the agencies that have previously met their needs shuttering their doors.  The cost to society and the State to repair these broken lives and damaged safety net system would be significant; much more than funding EA at the proper level.  We invite you to join us in the fight to protect this important program and contact your State Legislators to urge them to support restoring $58 million in EA funding in this year’s State budget and preserve this vital program.

NJ State Legislature – Mercer County

District 14 – (Mercer and Middlesex)
Cranbury, East Windsor, Hamilton (Mercer), Hightstown, Jamesburg, Monroe (Middlesex), Plainsboro, Robbinsville, Spotswood

Senator  Linda R. Greenstein – 1249 South River Rd., Suite 105, Cranbury, NJ 08512
Phone: (609) 395-9911

Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson – 3691A Nottingham Way, Hamilton Square, NJ 08690
Phone: (609) 631-0198

Assemblyman Wayne P. DeAngelo – 4621A Nottingham Way, Hamilton, NJ 08690
Phone: (609) 631-7501

District 15 – (Hunterdon and Mercer)
East Amwell, Ewing, Hopewell Borough (Mercer), Hopewell Township (Mercer), Lambertville, Lawrence (Mercer), Pennington, Trenton, West Amwell, West Windsor

Senator Shirley K. Turner – 1230 Parkway Ave., Suite 103, Ewing Twp., NJ 08628
Phone: (609) 323-7239

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora – 144 West State St., Trenton, NJ 08608
Phone: (609) 571-9638

Assemblywoman Elizabeth Maher Muoio – 144 West State St., Trenton, NJ 08608
Phone: (609) 571-9638

District 16 – (Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset)
Branchburg, Delaware, Flemington, Hillsborough, Manville, Millstone (Somerset), Montgomery, Princeton, Raritan (Hunterdon), Readington, Rocky Hill, Somerville, South Brunswick, Stockton

Senator Christopher Bateman – 36 East Main St., Somerville, NJ 08876
Phone: (908) 526-3600

Assemblyman Jack M. Ciattarelli – 50 Division St., Suite 200, Somerville, NJ 08876
Phone: (908) 450-7064

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker – 23 Orchard Road, Suite 170, Skillman, NJ 08558
Phone: (609) 454-3147

Additional Legislators can be found by using this link: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/districts/municipalities.asp